The 11-year-old boy scans the unfamiliar Kisumu street, a little unsure of himself for the first time since the heated argument with his father this morning. In a small space between two shops, he spots a couple of boys his size. Feeling more confident, he walks over to say hello. But something is wrong. The other boys’ speech is slurred, and their eyes can’t seem to focus on his face. Uneasy once again, the boy turns and continues his aimless walk down the street, searching for a place to rest.
In Kisumu and other cities of Kenya, these kinds of scenes happen every day. It’s estimated that upward of 100,000 young boys live on the streets, a thousand of them in Kisumu.
The boys survive by begging and stealing. They sleep on sidewalks in town, in small abandoned shops, and on occasion, in the underground sewers.
Most, says Rev. Dan Schmelzer, become addicted to sniffing cobbler’s glue they buy for a few shillings (two cents), resulting in physical symptoms such as slurred speech, unsteady gait, clumsiness and lethargy. Long term, the chemicals destroy the boys’ lungs and impair their cognitive development.
While other social programs provide places for the boys to sleep and meals for their bellies, Rev. Schmelzer and his wife, Patty, have seen the boys’ greater need to be part of a family. They see the boys’ need for Jesus.
Finding a better way
Rev. Schmelzer (a volunteer pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya) and his wife moved to Kenya 11 years ago to be administrators of a home for street children. As they gained experience, the Schmelzers discovered that many of the street children had families who wanted them.
“Strong family bonds are a strength in Kenya – one reason we believe a home, even a poor and struggling home, is better than a well-maintained institution,” Rev. Schmelzer explained. “We also believe that our role as a mission agency is to encourage and minister to this divine structure of family with the means of grace.”
To put their new outlook into practice, the Schmelzers ventured out on their own and founded Capstone Ministries in 2005.
“The name was derived from Psalm 118:22 – ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.’ We felt this verse captured our vision for street children: restored to community, reconciled with family and redeemed by God,” said Rev. Schmelzer.
From there, steps are taken to reconcile the boys with their families. “Our staff has become very skilled in the processes of counseling rural families,” Rev. Schmelzer said. “They accompany the boys to their rural homes – a critical emotional and spiritual time for the boy, his family and our staff.”
Putting down roots
Capstone has instituted eight pastor-led Bible studies in the Kisumu area, made up of family members who have had a boy reconciled from the street.They have also started yearly Capstone Camps, where boys who have persevered through challenging circumstances can participate in spiritual lessons, Scout activities, community service, games and fellowship.
Each morning, a pastor will lead a lesson on the 10 Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, or baptism.
“This is often the most moving and emotional time at camp, as the boys stand in prayer, waiting to baptized, receiving the seal and power of their faith in Jesus,“ Rev. Schmelzer said.
The Schmelzers’ vision has been successful. To date, Capstone has reconciled 249 boys to their families. By sending a catechism home with each boy, the Schmelzers believe the family’s bonds to each other and to God will be strengthened.
“The catechism is to be presented as a spiritual tool for the entire family, not just for the boy,” Rev. Schmelzer said. “This tool will empower families to dig deep and put down roots into the Word of God.”
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